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Movement on the dance scene: Tanz im August

Tanz im August is back (Aug 10-Sep 2). And 30! The latest edition of the international dance festival proves why dance in Berlin is as strong as ever. Daniel Mufson explains why and how TiA has helped to move others.

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Photo by Kerstin Behrendt

As Tanz im August turns 30, it can take credit for making vibrant programmes a summer routine.

One great choreographer can put a town on the map – who would have heard of Wuppertal if it weren’t for Pina Bausch? While other giants like Jiři Kylian and William Forsythe became synonymous with the companies and cities where they did their best work, Berlin has fostered a more decentralised dance culture. In part, this may be a result of neglect: the dance community in Berlin has for years bemoaned a lack of adequate funding from the city; historically, however, there was also a fear that a “flagship” dance theatre or choreographer would end up stealing attention from the rest. Now those fears have subsided somewhat as the city government’s 2016 coalition agreement specifically stated its aim to strengthen Berlin’s dance scene, budgeting €100,000 for a “Round Table on Dance” that’s convening this year to make recommendations. And aside from its hopes for more money, Berlin’s contemporary dance scene will get a jolt of attention when its best-known choreographer, Sasha Waltz, assumes the role of co-artistic director for the Berlin State Ballet in 2019.

In the meantime, Berliners can appreciate what the dance community has done with the resources it has, and summer is the season when the city flexes its dance muscles most impressively with a series of festivals and events to fill the void left by the darkened houses of spoken theatre. The Tanz im August festival started by HAU 30 years ago has been the highlight of the summer since its earliest days and its success has encouraged smaller venues to stay active in the summer and to host their own festivals. The city government acknowledged the festival’s importance by increasing its annual budget by €150,000 this year and giving it a one-time bonus of €100,000 for the anniversary celebrations. This year’s performances are tilting to the political, taking up themes such as migration and sexism, but variety is inevitable in a festival featuring 30 productions performed at almost a dozen venues. The opening show goes for the big names: Trois Grandes Fugues features the Ballet de l’Opera de Lyon performing three dances to Beethoven fugues choreographed by Lucinda Childs, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, and Maguy Marin, each a legend in her own right. My tip is the Big Dance Theater’s 17c, inspired by the diaries of Samuel Pepys – a big success at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last autumn. Bruno Beltrao and Grupo de Rua also promise a dynamic performance with INOAH (photo), 10 dances fuelled by frustration with Brazil’s sociopolitical landscape. Beltrao is known for his deconstruction of hip-hop moves.

Apart from Tanz im August, smaller venues have put together their own festivals – like the Tanznacht organized by the Tanzfabrik. Started in 2000 with help from the HAU as a one-night showcase for Berlin’s homegrown independent dance artists, the biennial festival has expanded to four days in this tenth edition. Dock11’s Once in California… features choreographers connected through time they spent in California, mostly in San Francisco, including Yannis Adoniou, Sara Shelton Mann, Jorge de Hoyos and Christine Bonansea. But if you want to get in on the dance yourself, check out the Tänze im Hof (courtyard dances) hosted on the first of each month at Ufer Studios – a collective dance action, outdoors, free and open for all, this is about as decentralised as it gets.

Tanz im August Aug 10-Sep 2 Hebbel am Ufer, Kreuzberg | Tanznacht Aug 24-27 Tanzfabrik, Kreuzberg | Once in California… Aug 9-12 Dock11, Prenzlauer Berg | Tänze im Hof Sep 1, Oct 1 Ufer Studios, Wedding